“Still here.” Sedge was still smiling, even if he was complaining.
“I know. But we’re leaving.” Niobe gave Blaecleah’s hand another squeeze. “Come on, kiddo.”
“Probably not the best nickname, sorry. Come on, Blaecleah.”
“Later, Sedge. You’ve given me something to think about, and so right now, I’m going to think about this lovely gift.” She moved from an amble to a swift walk; Blaecleah had no trouble keeping up, at least.
“Where are we… oh. Your room, right?” He swallowed. “Can I talk?”
“You’re talking, aren’t you?”
“Um, yeah, but you didn’t say I could.”
“More importantly at the moment, I didn’t say you couldn’t. Yes. Yes, you can talk. And yes, we’re going to my room.”
“Thanks. I – I’ve never done this before.”
“I’d be surprised if you had. You can’t be Kept before you’re an adult, except here, and here is… weird.”
“Here is weird.” That was something they could agree on, that was for sure.
She paused – halfway down the stairs. Blaecleah stumbled but managed to catch himself before he jerked on her arm. “Why did you agree to the collar, Blaecleah?”
He swallowed. “It was kind of dumb.”
“I’m not saying it wasn’t. But why?”
“He said I was soft. That I wouldn’t survive here.”
“Aah.” She started walking again. “That makes sense.”
“It does?” He hurried to catch up, feeling the way she was holding his hand like a leash – oh, dead gods, leashes…
“I’d have done the same thing. Pride gets people into messes sense would never allow – and now I’m quoting one of my mothers, look what you’ve done.”
“I’m, ah, sorry?” He coughed. One of my mothers? Damn, he didn’t have any, and she had more than one?
“Don’t be. I mean.” She stopped again. At least this time they were on a level surface. “That wasn’t an order.”
“Hunh? Oh. Oh! Can you… can you do that?”
“Yeah. She closed her eyes for a minute. “I can do almost anything I want to you, kid, and the almost is because we’re here.”
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